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Touring mainland Greece

#1
Afternoon all,
I am thinking of touring mainland Greece as of next week for anour two weeks.
I've acquired the usual guides and checked the websites, but was wondering whether any of you seasoned travellers have any recommendations of unusual places to visit, advice regarding means of transport (e.g. bike vs car vs bus) or places to stay etc.
Also, I've failed to find (so far anyway) any decent sites or books regarding sites related to military history, which is a pity for a country with about 3000 years' worth of fighting.
I'm thinking of setting out from Athens, then down and around the Peloponnese, up to Patras, then on towards Thessalonika and back down to Athens.
Any thoughts? Thanks in advance!
 

TheIronDuke

ADC
Book Reviewer
#2
björn said:
Also, I've failed to find (so far anyway) any decent sites or books regarding sites related to military history, which is a pity for a country with about 3000 years' worth of fighting.
Well, to be fair, nothing much happened around that part of the world until Ze Chermans invaded in WW2.

King Leonidas of Sparta had a bit of a spat with some foreign people. Xerxes lost on the Away Goal Rule. The Peloponnesian War more or less defined the rule of democracy over facism, for a few years at least.

Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Pericles and Sophocles poodled about there a bit. And if you ask around, theres Lycian tombs you can poke around in.

Apart from that, its pretty boring.

I'd take the bus.
 
#4
TheIronDuke said:
björn said:
Also, I've failed to find (so far anyway) any decent sites or books regarding sites related to military history, which is a pity for a country with about 3000 years' worth of fighting.
Well, to be fair, nothing much happened around that part of the world until Ze Chermans invaded in WW2.

King Leonidas of Sparta had a bit of a spat with some foreign people. Xerxes lost on the Away Goal Rule. The Peloponnesian War more or less defined the rule of democracy over facism, for a few years at least.

Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Pericles and Sophocles poodled about there a bit. And if you ask around, theres Lycian tombs you can poke around in.

Apart from that, its pretty boring.

I'd take the bus.
Depends what you consider boring. If all yo're interested in is ancient history then you're right - once you've exhausted what Athens has to offer then that's about it; Sparta isn't even worth bothering with - it's like the Greek version of Walsall.

If, however, you have an interest in the Balkans then you couldn't ask for more. The Greek War of Independence (1821-1830) still has a hold on the national imagination and up in Northern Greece places like Thessaloniki and Bizani are worth a visit to find out about the War of Independence and the First Balkan War - events that marked the end of Ottoman power in Europe.
 

TheIronDuke

ADC
Book Reviewer
#5
Constantinople and Sultanahmet are a short drive away. It used to be the home of the Roman Empire and had its own Pope for a while. Then Ryan Air started doing cheap flights to Rome. And it was only a matter of time, you know?
 
#6
Bjorn
Mainland Greece is hoofing. If you are starting out from Athens (watch out for the Eastern European gangs :D ) public transport is actually quite good.
From Athens go to Marathon then Delphi (visit both parts, the site and the museum) and stay the night in either Delphi or Itea which is on the coast.
Its up to you next wether you brach to the Peloponese as already said or head north. (Personally north for me)
Next stop Volos. From there explore Mount Pelion and the little villages on the other side (Argolisti, but never been in October) and take a boat trip to Skiathos or Skopelos islands. (PS the view from the top of Mount Pelion at sunset is awesome).
After that head to Larissa. Excellent night life (great strip bars, live music, food etc) Big industrial and agricultural area and go to the Vale of Tempei and visit the shrine (to WW2 martyrs)built into the cliffs next to the Pindos river.
Move north again and you are into the Olympus mountain range. Spend a day or two staying at the mountain huts and walking in the hills. Next to Olympus there is ancient city of Dion, which also is next to probably the oldest military training area in the world.
From there head NW to the Vikos Gorge the go and visit the mega impressive tombs and ruins at Veghina where Philip of Macedonia was murdered and buried and his son Alexender the Great took power. (Believe me, you will not forget the tombs)
From there it is past Thessaloniki to the fingers of Greece. Go and visit the monestary at Mount Athos.
Double back into Thessaloniki and Roberts your Fathers Brother.
Just some places that I like and there are many others.
PS Do not forget the megapiles of Metoria (google it matey)
Last point. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS OF ANY MILITARY ESTABLISHMENT, VEHICLE, PERSONNEL OR AIRCRAFT.
Greek prison food is crap so I have been told.
Enjoy
HH Out
 
#7
Athens: everyone thinks it's sh1t and gives it 2 days max. It deserves longer:
it's exceptionally good to go out in, after about midnight- esp. Psirri, in the centre-and the scoff cannot be faulted (if you avoid tourist traps).

Culturally, I'd recommend the National Historical Museum: ignored by non-Greeks, it's full of weapons from their various wars from 1453 to 1949- beautiful scimitars, muskets & so on.

Salonika: don't miss it. Again great food and so-so nightlife (inc. hot belly dancers in the Ladadika district), but also WW1 cemetaries (British, French, Serbian), and the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle- early 1900s weaponry etc.

(Will finish of tomorrow: True Blood's started...)
 
#8
Many thanks for all your replies. I was mainly looking at the Peloponnese (thanks to Mani by Patrick Leigh-Fermor), but from what you say HH, I'll have to spend more time than planned in the North! Well fair enough, but I'll have to go and see Mystras and Olympia anyway.
There seems that there is a hell of a lot of things to do. I had only been in Athens, Corfu, Crete and the Aegean before so all this makes it even better.
HH any idea of the temperature in the North at this time of the year?

Noted re taking silly photos of aircraft, I'll stick to donkeys.
 
#9
If you're thinking about the North, try Paddy L-F's Roumeli for a taster...

The North: temperature is highly changeable in Autumn, and freezing in winter. Salonika is generally quite a rainy city- a sort of Greek Manchester- and the further up in the mountains you go, the colder it'll be.

Generally speaking, the North's fascinating. More Balkan than stereotypically Greek- in Macedonia you have broad plains, wide rivers, chestnut and oak forests and in the villages the locals often speak Slavic in the coffeshops (thought they'll switch to Greek as soon as a stranger walks in). Vergina's definitely worth going to; I've heard good things of lake Prespa too. Salonika: there's also Ataturk's birthplace, now a museum attached to the Turkish consulate, and worth a look.

Epirus (NW): mountainous, rainy, thick pine forests, bears and wolves (and Albanians) in the woods... also stunningly beautiful. Thick snow in winter. Try the city of Ioannina (Jannina)- highly picturesque, Ottoman-esque old town, including a citadel on an island in a freezing lake (full of tasty carp), stuffed with old mosques and ringed by mountains. It's where Ali Pasha made his capital, until the Sultan offed him (they'll show you the bullet hole). The area around still has lots of old castles on crags and lakesides, and ruined mosques and villages in the undergrowth from when the local Albanians were ethnically cleansed after the war.

Thrace (NE): I haven't been, but have always meant to. Flat, until you get to the Rhodopes on the Bulgarian and Turkish borders (the most militarised in Europe, apparently). Tobacco-growing country, and very Balkan- the further East you go, the more mosques and headscarves you'll see (and soldiers milling around). Interesting locals include the Pomaks, ginger Muslim Slavs, as well as the Turkish minority and a vast number of gypsies. Again, if you're going offroad, watch out for bears, wolves and minefields- immigrants often get blown up/eaten trying to cross into Greece...
 
#10
björn said:
Also, I've failed to find (so far anyway) any decent sites or books regarding sites related to military history, which is a pity for a country with about 3000 years' worth of fighting.
This incredibly-slow-loading page has more info than you'll ever need about the War of Independence and Balkan Wars: http://forum.uniforminsignia.org/viewtopic.php?t=2941&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=15

Including:

Corporal Gerasimos Raphtόpoulos



Raphtopoulos (left) together with Euzones & other troops

Raphtopoulos is the youngest ever NCO in the history of the Greek Armed Forces . He was born in Fiscardo, Cephallonia in 1900. During the 1st Balkan War, against the Ottomans, he volunteered at the age of 12(!!) & was accepted as private of the 18th Infantry Regiment of the IV Division . For his courage in the battle of Sarandaporon he received a Manlicher-Schonauer rifle as a gift. In the battle of Kilkis-Lachana , in 1913, he managed to escape from enprisonment, killing 3 out of the 5 Bulgarian soldiers who had captured him. On his way back, he found a wounded Euzone soldier & carried him with him. For his valour, he was promoted to the Corporal's rank on August 28th, 1913
Nails.

There's also the War Museum in Athens, which includes this mental "tank": http://www.flickr.com/photos/jedi58/3581798257/
 
#11
Thanks Rumpelstiltskin. Advice I'll follow, although I'm unsure as to whether I'm going to manage all this in a bare two weeks! You seem to know the place pretty well - is it worth renting a bike and carrering round on it or would you rather recommend buses?
By the way, I bought Roumeli, but haven't got around to reading it yet. The flight is going to be a bit short though.
 
#12
björn said:
Thanks Rumpelstiltskin. Advice I'll follow, although I'm unsure as to whether I'm going to manage all this in a bare two weeks! You seem to know the place pretty well - is it worth renting a bike and carrering round on it or would you rather recommend buses?
By the way, I bought Roumeli, but haven't got around to reading it yet. The flight is going to be a bit short though.
Bike: I dunno, depends how confident you'll feel on icy mountain roads; Greeks can be quite alarming drivers...

Bus: Between the big cities, the buses can be surprisingly comfy coaches. Expect much arrsing about acquiring tickets, and loading on and off though. They can be quite fun, in a way. Expect a thickly-mustachioed driver chaining fags and arguing with the biddies behind him on hairpinbends, very loud Greek music, and decent ouzo-and-stuffed-pepper-filled rest stops at service stations. On the Athens-Salonika route, and probably elsewhere near the border, military police will often board coaches at roadblocks to sniff out illegal immigrants- keep your passport to hand.

Books: also worth a look are Mark Mazower's Inside Hitler's Greece and Salonika: City of Ghosts. If you're on a bus, trust me, you'll get time to read them...
 
#13
Well I'm used to driving in Switzerland so I don't mind icy roads more than the average biker, but then again I enjoy exotic bus rides. Sounds fun and if the service is good it would be the best option.

One of the best such rides was between Palmyra and Aleppo in Syria, with a fine crusader filum where the crusaders were the baddies (all ended well though, as everybody broke into a dance). Strongly recommended.
 
#14
I got pick pocketed in athens on the metro, some bint then spent £3000 from the credit card on lingerie! got it stopped though. In athens there are lots of eastern euros and nigerians about, so watch that wallet!
The war musuem in Athens is pretty good, lots of british involvement in Greece's recent history. The new Acropolis museum is nothing special, especially as most of the stuff it's built to hold is in the British museum, it was free though.
Come the evening some sellers put the porn on sale in omonoia square, rows of rows of pirated dvd's, sex cinema nearby too, but the missus wouldn't let me go! and if you like postcards showing ancient greeks taking it up the sh****r while sucking off another bloke, they are to be found on most postcard stands!
 
#15
Hi all,
Thought I'd report back on my progress so far. Unfortunately its been pissing down and the weather has only abated today.
My raincoat and I have therefore spent two days in Salonica (well two rather hefty evenings and a day) and, other than was what already mentioned here, was very impressed by the Rotunda of Galerius. The statue of Alexander the Great on the seafront pointing towards Persia is also a sight not to be missed. My hotel was beside the Roman forum, which was also interesting.
I also want to point out that the Greeks' interest for foreigners has taken a heavy toll on my liver, but grand evenings they were, finishing very late with my hosts for the evening undecided as to whether I was very wise, a spy, a madman or all three. Patrick Leigh-Fermor mentions this in Roumeli and I have found it (amongst other things) to be spot on - recommended reading therefore.
I also managed a couple of museums in Salonica, then headed on to Veria, close to Vergina, site of the Macedonian kings' tombs. Hugely impressive I have to say - a site not to be missed (eerie atmosphere as its also underground - good protection against the rain) . Veria itself is quite a nice city, with Ottoman houses and an interesting tendency of the locals to blow the tops of minarets off besides mosques. The Byzantine museum is also worth a visit.
I then headed down to Lithoro at the foot of Mount Olympus. Very nice town and ate some of the best game ever in the www.gastrodromio.gr, for those who are interested. The weather precluded a climb up Mount Olympus (even partially) so I am now in Kalampaka, below the Meteora.
As mentioned by Rumpelstiltskin, the bus services are very good, but you spend a lot of time on them. So far, my only complaint is the weather. My fault for going this time of the year! Dinner now and its the National Day tomorrow so it may be entertaining.
So far, its all been a bit frustrating visit-wise (way too many things to see), but this more than offset by the friendliness of the people I have met.
 
#16
Bjorn, good to hear you're enjoying it- am quite quite jealous, stuck at my desk in London.

It's probably a bit late to say, but Salonika's old, or 'upper' town is well worth a look- old Ottoman houses with overhanging balconies, crumbling mosques and exceptionally well-preserved Roman and Byzantine walls looming above the city- it makes you realise just how big ancient Salonika was. Cracking views too, weather permitting.

Depending where you're off to next, you could pop to Kastoria - a medieval lakeside city noted for 1) architecture 2) trout and 3) cheap fur emporia for Balkan mafiosi... as well as a small church built by one of the Rumpleancestors ( http://hellas.teipir.gr/Thesis/Kastoria/engmou~1.htm )...

Or you could pop the merest smidgeon south (I think) to Trikala, home to the rarely-visited (and certainly rarely publicised :D ) Osman Shah mosque, by Sinan (his only remaining Greek mosque): http://www.windmillstravel.com/album.php?id=44&destination=7&destinationtype=region

I've always meant to go there...

Interesting factoid I just learned: it was the seat of a Vlach fascist puppet state, during Italy's rather flawed COIN ops during the war: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principality_of_Pindus

All the above depending on how the tsipouro leaves you...
 
#17
Thanks for the response Rumpelstilskin,
Been tramping all day visiting the monasteries of the Meteora and I have say they are a truly spectacular sight. Have a look at the website for a taster http://www.meteora-greece.com/.
Walked all the way up from Kalamata and back down so it took me most of the day, but I really think you have to do it on foot. Its about 15km but easy going. The steps to the monasteries are a bit tougher but well worth it. I'll post some photos (on another site, as they are hardly military - except for the cannon in the courtyard of the Grand Meteor). Incidentally, if you have to visit only one of them, go for that one. The museum is mainly focussed on military matters / insurgencies and has some beautiful pieces. The bandoliers and buckles are works of art. The location is second to none. In some ways it reminded me of Siguiria in Sri Lanka (the steps maybe).
I'm heading off to Delphi tomorrow and will see if I can manage a stop in Trikala to visit the Osman Shah mosque, as suggested by Rumpelstiltskin.
Yassou.
 
#19
Indeed it should - as well as through the pass of Thermopylae ("Ὦ ξεῖν', ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι. - Oh Stranger, tell the Spartans That we lie here obedient to their word"). I have made a few notes along the way so far and will post as I can, just in case anyone finds it useful!
Tame evening this time although the glamour club looked inviting, but early doors tomorrow...
On a side note, the valley of the Tempei is truly stunning. Well worth a bike ride - I regret taking the bus!
As Runpelstiltskin pointed out, lots of time spent on busses, I have ran out of reading, any thoughts about a book on recent Greek history?
 
#20
Hey, did you see the two books listed above, both by Mark Mazower, and both excellent?

Otherwise, really you're limited to what you can get in (presumably) Athens.

I bought this in Athens airport a few years ago, and it's an awfully good introduction, by two historians either of whose works are individually well worth reading: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0814747671/?tag=armrumser-20

Same goes for anything by John Koliopoulos and Paschalis Kitromilides.

Rather old (1966) but still possibly available is The Greek Struggle for Macedonia by Douglas Dakin, still the best book on the period.

You could also expand into Anthropology, the Greek subgenre of which is almost exclusively concerned with modern history, and the complexities and ironies of its incorporation into the Greek national story.

Particularly recommended is : http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0521389089/?tag=armrumser-21 and anything else by Michael Herzfeld, inc.

Also, this, recently published: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1850659222/?tag=armrumser-21

And, specific to the Slavic villages around Vergina, this which caused rather a furore at the time of its publication: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/presssite/metadata.epl?mode=synopsis&bookkey=3626606

In travel writing- and the term really doesn't do it justice- there's The Flight of Icarus by Kevin Andrews, which is actually quite rare in the UK (I've been looking for a copy since I left uni a few years ago) and quite the bleakest book I'd ever read, up to that point. Unlike Paddy L-F, who reduces it to an anecdotal level, it makes you realise quite how Bosnia-like the Greek Civil War was.

Anyway, good luck and kalo taxidi. I look forward to reading your updates, should you get a chance.



Edit: I forgot these, both focussed on Greece's eastward advance and the katastrofi that followed it:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0472085697/?tag=armrumser-20

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1862079242/?tag=armrumser-21

They ought both be available in Athens, esp. in the big bookshop on Panepistimiou.
 

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